Not too long ago, comparisons between the strength of the AAAAA-South Conference and the AAAAA-West Conference were often favorable toward the schools spread out from Pine Bluff to Texarkana.
In the last couple of years, however, the dropoff in the AAAAA-South has been almost severe and last year's playoff implosion by league members made many realize that the league had hit rock bottom.
Consider the following:
- Pine Bluff needed a touchdown pass in the final 17 seconds to beat Jacksonville in the first round of the playoffs and then was branded by Fort Smith Southside in the quarterfinals, 49-13.
- El Dorado fell from 2001 state finalist to a first-round exodus via a 38-37 double-overtime loss to Russellville.
- Texarkana had negative rushing yards in a 21-0 loss to Cabot.
- And, Lake Hamilton was destroyed by Springdale, 35-0.
Granted, the four teams that took the South out of the playoff hunt in 2002 were four of the best in the state, but the alarming part of the South's postseason performance is the way the schools were manhandled.
The league's "Big Three" – Pine Bluff (17 consecutive playoff appearances), Texarkana (13) and El Dorado (7) – are still the cream of the crop. Watson Chapel made some noise last year while Camden Fairview, with 16 returning starters, and Sheridan, with 20 starters and a new coach, appear to be capable of closing up the ranks between the league's clearly defined echelons.
El Dorado plays host to Pine Bluff, but the Wildcats seem to be the more likely of the two conference favorites to stumble over another conference foe. Fairview is highly regarded by the conference coaches, but a lack of postseason experience over the previous six seasons keeps the Cardinals down a ways on our list.
On paper, Camden Fairview does appear capable of competing with Lake Hamilton and Watson Chapel for the league's fourth playoff berth, joining the aforementioned "Big Three."
Here's how RPS sees the AAAAA-South race stacking up:
1. El Dorado 6-1
2. Pine Bluff 6-1
3. Texarkana 4-3
4. Watson Chapel 4-3
5. Lake Hamilton 3-4
6. Camden Fairview 3-4
7. Benton 1-6
8. Sheridan 1-6